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I recently spent some time camping out at the local Apple Store’s Genius Bar while my kids were having fun at Apple Camp, and I’ve decided that Apple’s ProCare plan is a great deal. So how come nobody ever talks about it?

The $99 per year ProCare plan offers customers a higher level of service than you would receive if you just walked in to the Apple Store off the street. Your repairs and access to Apple Geniuses is prioritized, you can reserve time in advance (up to one week), and the plan is accepted by any Apple Store anywhere in the world. You also get a “yearly tune-up” of your equipment—the Geniuses will run diagnostic software and clean up your equipment to make sure it’s in tip-top shape. And when ProCare members buy a new Mac, Apple Geniuses will migrate their software from the old computer to a new one. (Admittedly, Apple’s Migration Assistant makes it pretty easy, but there’s still something to be said for having someone else do it.)

But more than that, ProCare gets you an hour of training with experts at the store—and not just once, either. You can do it as often as once per week . The training can run the gamut, depending on your needs—learning how to get the most out of Apple Mail, for example, figuring out how to add some pizzazz to your latest musical work in Logic, getting more out of Final Cut Studio, or understanding how to create a high-impact presentation with Keynote. It’s really up to you.

Think about it: $99 per year. You can pay professional Apple consultants that much, or more, per hour .

Now I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone drop their Mac consultants and run to the Apple Store to sign up for ProCare—obviously there’s an important market for consultants. All kinds of services and help that consultants provide are totally beyond the reach of Apple Stores. But for the average users who are trying to get the most out of their Mac investment, either personally or professionally, it’s hard to think of a better value than signing up for ProCare.

Over the course of the two mornings my kids were at Apple Camp this week, I saw the staff at the local Apple Store help close to a dozen ProCare customers. One was a brand new MacBook Pro owner who just wanted to understand how her machine worked. Another was a professional musician who wanted to expand her skills with Logic. Another wanted help understanding how to use pro editing tools. Some were just there for tech support on products that they owned.

The interesting thing is that for most of those ProCare customers, the Apple Store is a regular haunt—enough so that the staff knows their names and recognizes them when they come in. Now I can’t say for sure if that familiarity is unique to the store I visited, or whether it’s a matter of cause-and-effect of ProCare, or just entirely coincidental. But that level of personal service can be invaluable, especially in a crunch when you’ve got a serious problem you need solved. The staff already knows you and has an idea of what you’re capable of, and can avoid wasting time going through the motions.

Sadly, the closest Apple Store is about an hour’s drive from my house, so the cost benefit of ProCare is offset by the cost of gas and the time it takes to get there and back.

But if Apple opens a store closer to my house—given the proliferation of “lifestyle centers” in this area (that’s the new euphemism for smaller, more upscale malls that Apple and other retailers like Williams-Sonoma and Talbots tend to favor), I’d consider it a distinct possibility—and if one does open near me, I’ll get one of those ProCare cards pronto.

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